When the title “Bow to Blood” first appeared on our Playstation VR radar, we thought it was going to be either vampire-themed or some kind of ancient Rome gladiator sim – a bit like what Ryse promised when it was a Kinect title, but in VR. Turns out we were wrong, although the gladiator reference still sort of works – as long as you’re willing to accept a sci-fi backdrop and spaceships instead of general Maximus.
From Skylanders to Ni No Kuni, the notion of a giant airship as a means of transportation certainly isn’t new to videogames – and Bow to Blood take the concept into the world of arena combat and futuristic game shows. This probably reminds you of Starblood Arena, but while that was multiplayer-oriented Bow to Blood is very much a single player adventure.
Of course the ‘futuristic game show’ isn’t a new concept either, and one we’ve seen quite a bit in popular culture – The Running Man and The Hunger Games come to mind. Bow to Blood’s main mechanic for getting the game show feel across is the use of a leaderboard, which updates after every round of airborne combat. Find yourself at the bottom of the table (in one of the last two places), and the other contestants have the chance to vote you off. This is where forging and managing relationships comes into play, which adds a surprisingly fun element of depth to the gameplay.
Joining forces with another captain can help in-battle, but will often happen at the expense of the amount of “essence” you have to spend on your own ship’s offensive and defensive systems. It’s these little trade-offs that make the decision-making process fun, and they’re especially important while you’re getting to grips with the game’s diverse ship management. As you get better, you’ll quickly find that you become confident enough to make brash decisions – but even those might backfire.
Piloting your ship is a lot like piloting a tank (in, for instance, Battlezone), where you use your thumbsticks to navigate through the arena and your own head movement to target your opponents. Move controls are supported as well, but while I generally prefer Move I found them to be less intuitive in Bow to Blood – perhaps due to me Battlezone experience. Unlike Battlezone, however, many of the characters in the game pack a ton of personality – which includes your crew members, who can be real chatterboxes. Unfortunately not all the dialogue in the game is voices though, and much of it relies on text boxes. A shame, because many of the captains definitely have personalities of their own and additional voicework would have enhanced that.
Diversity doesn’t just come from your various weapon/defensive systems – you also engage in a variety of events rather than just an endless series of battles. There are races as well, and even a few boss battle type sequences and a few light puzzles. As such, it’s a much more rounded experience than Starblood Arena was – or even Battlezone, for that matter.
Visually, developer Tribetoy has opted for a cartoony look and feel, which considering the technical limitations of Playstation VR is probably a wise choice and one that we see many VR developers embracing these days.
All in all, Bow to Blood was a pleasant surprise as a game that has a lot more to it than you’d initially think. The different ship systems and crew members you have to manage, alongside the relationships you craft (and destroy) with other captains make for a fun and interesting mix – and a game that’s better than similar VR titles already out there on Playstation VR.